A mikvah grows in Zagreb

Croatia´s chief -- and only -- rabbi, Kotel Da-Don, has plans underway to have a mikvah built in Zagreb. ()

Croatia´s chief — and only — rabbi, Kotel Da-Don, has plans underway to have a mikvah built in Zagreb. ()

ZAGREB, Croatia, May 2 (JTA) — The largely secular Jewish community here is about to get a mikvah. The ritual bath is the brainchild of the country´s chief — and only — rabbi, Kotel Da-Don, 33, who came to Zagreb three years ago. Da-Don, the first rabbi in Croatia since 1947, plans to raise money abroad for the project, which may be completed as early as this fall. Since Da-Don arrived, 20 people have approached him about converting to Judaism, and he has helped six convert. "They all had to go abroad because there is no ritual bath here in Zagreb," he told JTA. "If there were one, then the Jewish court could sit here in Zagreb and convert whoever needs to" be converted. In addition, he said, "There are at least 10 women in Zagreb whom I know about that would go to the mikvah every month if there were one here." The mikvah is the latest evidence that Croatian Jews are moving toward a more traditional Judaism. Since Jews began living in Zagreb at the beginning of the 19th century, the majority of the community has been reformist. The first Jewish community in Zagreb was established in 1806, and the first rabbi came three years later. In the mid-19th century, a more liberal Judaism began to take hold. Later, assimilation and Zionism were prevalent. After World War II, many Holocaust survivors became Communists. Their children, born after 1945, were brought up as atheists and married non-Jews. The Jewish identity of this generation stemmed from the Holocaust stories they were told. Now, for their grandchildren, Jewish life is becoming more present — and positive. When Da-Don arrived in Zagreb, many in the 1,500-member community were wary of having an Orthodox rabbi in a community where few are Orthodox. But the young rabbi, who was born and raised in Israel and received a master´s degree in law in Hungary, has won some people over, in part by learning Croatian. While many Croatian Jews feel a mikvah is somehow a relic of the past, the project was approved by the Council of the Jewish Community in Zagreb. Many younger members of the community study with Da-Don, and he has encouraged several teen-agers to study in Israel. A mechitzah, or dividing wall, has been erected in the synagogue, which is only a prayer room in the Jewish community building. When his youngest son was born two years ago, Da-Don organized a circumcision with a mohel who came from abroad. The mikvah is slated to be built in the complex that houses the Jewish home for the aged. "This is a good place, because it is comparatively secluded and surrounded by a park," Da-Don said.

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